Stylistic flexibility is important at every stage of a project life cycle. It entails noticing prevailing stylistic norms in given cultures and contexts, as well as acquiring a repertoire of styles and using them flexibly and sensitively. Stylistic flexibility is similar in certain respects to the category ‘language adjustment’; however, it is not the vocabulary, grammar and tempo that are adjusted to the proficiency level of the interactional partner. Rather, it is the style of language that is adapted (e.g. level of formality) to suit different purposes, contexts and audiences.
Case Study Example: Meeting Conventions
The British manager of the eChina-UK Programme reports that she found the style of many meetings in China, especially with the Chinese Ministry of Education, very different from those she was used to. The most noticeable differences were the ‘speaking rights’ of the participants, and the length of the speaker turns. For example, it was particularly common for the Chinese chair of a meeting to speak in very long turns, making a whole series of points and with many subordinates carefully writing down everything that was said. The most senior British person was then expected to respond in a similarly long turn. The British manager reports finding this different interactional style quite difficult to adjust to – that it was very hard to negotiate on specific points, as each turn consisted of so many.
The eChina-UK project teams also experienced the need to be stylistically flexible. For example, when they were arranging a joint workshop in China, the British initially wanted there to be one day of speeches and two days of ‘working workshops’ when the teams discussed and planned their projects in detail. The Chinese partners, on the other hand, were uncomfortable with so much time for discussion and wanted to fill all three days with speeches. They also wanted the event to be formal and grand – the meeting room was decorated with banners and filled with a large u-shape of tables that were too heavy to move. The British team felt more comfortable with informality, while the Chinese team felt more comfortable with formality.